Long Term Unemployed, Talented, and Scared about the future
I hate balancing my checkbook and looking at the state of affairs with my finances.
It's been four long years (feels like five or more, hence my math errors on the subject sometimes) since I was laid off from a small business in Manhattan. 18 months ago, money drove me out of the city I truly love (of all the many places I've lived, Brooklyn remains my favorite). Money and mounting debt.
Overall, I've been very responsible with money. I'm still alive mostly because I've been smart about money -- borrowing from Peter to pay Paul on credit cards during times of unemployment or underemployment, then aggressively paying off debt once I'm working while still saving a little (understanding that credit card APRs are many times higher than savings and certificate of deposit yields). Once my credit card debt was paid off, I squirrelled every penny I could into structured savings, maximising my earnings every way I could, despite barely making ends meet.
Looking at my life, I've done a very intelligent job of things.
But when the recession cost me by job in May, 2009, I found I had still not reached at 6 months to a year of expenses savings goal, especially given the high rents of NYC.
So I went into debt. My unemployment was only $350 a week while it lasted -- about $1400 per month. But when rent on a tiny studio takes $1000 of that -- before utilities, food, and other needs -- I found myself putting about 30% of my monthly expenses on credit cards -- and then allocating some of that precious savings to pay them back.
After 90 weeks, my unemployment ran out. A new friend offered me shelter here in western Pennsylvania in 2011, but ambiguously. I failed to be as smart about money as I should have, squandering time and especially not applying for food stamps, vocational rehabilitation, or even independent housing here in Johnstown nearly soon enough. I made bad financial decisions out of an overly optimistic view of the fragile world around me, frozen by circumstances and uncertain what to do next.
So I sat and did nothing out of fear.
Now I sit very much afraid. I have tried so many things with regards to trying to bring in an income. I applied for disability (I have three disabilities: significant sight loss, hearing loss, and severe chronic migraine). After spending about $1000 with doctors trying to win my case and nearly 2 years in the process the answer was "denied." It would seem my age and my education were just too much against me. And of course I was willing to run up that debt, certain that I would succeed -- because what else was there to do?
I tried to start multiple businesses -- all of them failed, running up more debt.
And I wrote my first book, "The Great Succession Crisis," not aware of how expensive self publishing really is.
I have been to countless job fairs and not nearly enough interviews, sending out my resumes aggressively. In the summer of 2012, I applied for housing assistance to help me move to Johnstown (the only place in Cambria county with any real public transit); the last week of September, 2012 I received the keys and moved in.
And still my savings dwindles. I released my book in eight formats (see complete list at www.peersofbeinan.com/where.html). I write regularly for Yahoo Voices.
And yet...no job.
I did secure a three week position at a call center for the holidays -- but it was a temp job and could not last.
I try so hard and work so hard. I do not know what it means to be away from my computer for an entire day, a day where I am not working on my website or using social media or trying to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to get work or at least some money coming in.
I know I am not alone in this. Other people are suffering too. But that does not stop my debt from mounting and my savings from dwindling as I try to survive.
Something needs to change soon -- or this summer, perhaps this autumn, I will lose the few blessings I have -- most especially my beloved cockatiel Mithril.
She is all I really have left.
And if you pardon my words from the heart...I cannot help but to wonder...why did deity (pick your name for deity according to your religion) keep returning me back to my flesh each time I was mortally wounded as a child and as a teenager if my fate were to perish on the streets, to starve to death or be sexually violated by the many predators around? I have suffered so much across my life; the physical scars of violence survived are all over my body. My eyes reflect both a steely resolve to survive and a lonely/broken heart from all the hardships of my brutal life.
I crossed over into that which is beyond seven times from seven clusters of mortal wounds.
Am I destined to die on the streets now? I wish I could stop worrying. But I don't have the blessings of being loved and cared for, the web of family and friends others have. I am alone, needing to rely on just me.
but what do you do when all the intelligent choices of your life still fail to get your head above water in this recession?
I have so little in my life left. I do not even have a pair of shoes for my feet that fit me. All I have is my feathered friend.
What will come of us?
What good is the ability to paint pictures with words? What good is my education (towards which I have yet to repay the loans on, 15 years after graduation) or my insightful research?
I do not even get the benefit of the sort of "entitlements" that are supposed to help the poor. I was, after all, intelligent and wise enough not to procreate when I did not have the money or emotional wherewithal to care for a child. I, the single, educated woman without children cannot get help when I so badly need it. By contrast, the most irresponsible teenager with babies from unprotected sexual encounters can get all the help and cash from the government she can want.
Yes, I know motherhood is hard; I recently spent several hours talking to mothers so I could write just one short scene in "Ghosts of the Past" where Lord Kian deals with his toddler daughter's tantrum while he is trying to work (Lord Kian is an engineer in my book). But shouldn't the government reward RESPONSIBLE behavior more than irresponsible behavior?
Is my life so much worth less than a teenage mother?
I who have so much talent just want a fair chance to survive. I just need help, a little help, weathering this recession for a little while longer.
I do believe we are pulling out of the recession. But for all my optimism, I still have that problem: how do I survive until then?
I feel afraid and so very lonely. Does anyone care?
Laurel A. Rockefeller, author
The Peers of Beinan series